Woven from the words of the inhabitants of a small Suffolk village in the 1960s, Akenfield is a masterpiece of twentieth-century English literature, a scrupulously observed and deeply affecting portrait of a place and people and a now vanished way of life. Ronald Blythe’s wonderful book raises enduring questions about the relations between memory and modernity, nature and human nature, silence and speech.
Ronald Blythe lovingly draws apart the curtains of legend and landscape, revealing the inner, almost clandestine, spirit of the village behind. His book consists of a series of direct-speech monologues, delivered by forty-nine Suffolk residents, and interpretatively linked by the author. The effect is one of astonishing immediacy: it is as if those country people have looked up for a moment from their plow, lawnmower or kitchen sink, and are talking directly (and disturbingly frankly) to the reader. This is a brilliant and extraordinary book which raises disquieting second thoughts when the poetry has faded—as Mr. Blythe says, it is like a ‘strange journey through a familiar land.’
—Jan Morris, The New York Times Book Review
You will never be the same after reading this exquisite and revelatory book. You are caught by this chronicle, by the words of non-celebrated villagers. You do not hear them talking; you hear them feeling…It is life sung out by the celebrants of themselves. If you buy only one book this year, let it be this one.
A hundred years from now, anyone wanting to know how things were on the land will turn more profitably to Akenfield than to a sheaf of anaemically professional social surveys.
For all its quiet and subtlety, Akenfield documents the disappearance of an entire mode of civilization. Like the artist he claims foremost to be, he animates the countryside, gives it color and depth. He turns “quiet streets of old houses” into “huge clear spaces,” and finds the ordered, evolving poetry in everyday speech and feelings.
—John Lingan, The Baffler
…[O]ne of the really great books of the decade.
Here is a delectable book; a book to linger over and cherish, every page of which compels fresh thought and lets the reader actively participate in an attempt to understand and evaluate the life of one East Anglian village in the nineteen sixties.
—Edward Candy, The Times Saturday Review
A superb documentation of the changes which have revolutionized modern England.
Still the best portrait of modern rural life in England, subtle and compassionate.
—Roger Deakin, BBC Wildlife magazine
The community of Akenfield remains wild, mysterious, glorious, petty, and finally beyond reach…What makes the villagers what they are? What is their future? The life-likeness of the book leaves the questions far beyond the range of facile answers.
—The New Republic